Say goodbye to stress and inflammation with these easy-breezy, feel-good hacks.
Stress is one of the leading factors that contribute to most inflammatory diseases. In fact, 75 to 90 percent of doctor's visits in the United States are for stress. You could have the healthiest regime, a superfood-rich diet, and have tried every bio-hack under the sun, but if you're chronically stressed, no bio-hacking device will save you.
My inflammatory symptoms occurred during a very stressful and transformative time in my life. At the same time, all the years of abuse I let my body endure were finally taking its toll. Our bodies and muscles store trauma, so if you decide to work through it and embark on a healing journey, it gets worse before it gets better. (I promise it gets better!)
Before I decided to make a change, I found myself in a cycle of struggle. I stuck to a regimen of excessive restriction, an overload of high-intensity workouts, and a constant state of stress and insecurity, and my body retaliated. My skin was getting worse, I always felt puffy and bloated and was drowning in insecurity as a result. Fast forward to today, I'm embracing a new chapter. I've discovered the magic of an anti-inflammatory lifestyle tailored just for me, where movement is enjoyable and choices are made with love, not hate. This transformation has not just changed my body and my routine; it's brought me genuine happiness.
In all honesty, though, not every day is perfect. Some days are still difficult, and that's okay. As women, our hormones can make us feel certain ways we can't control, regardless of how meticulously we follow our routines. However, by equipping ourselves with enough knowledge and insight, we can make those days a little bit easier on both the mind and body. Now, let's delve into a topic you've probably heard a million times: Cortisol.
What Is Cortisol?
Cortisol is nature's built-in alarm system. It's the lovely hormone that wakes us up in the mornings and ebbs and flows throughout the day, tuning into our bodies' needs until it quiets down to set the stage for a restful night. This hormone is also our body's guardian, springing into action during fight-or-flight situations. Imagine the adrenaline rush needed if, say, a century ago, a wild tiger prowled in your backyard.
Today, it's not wild tigers but rather the pings of work emails or unexpected texts that trigger this primal response. It's fascinating, isn't it? Our bodies don't differentiate between real and perceived threats; the reaction is the same. Cortisol, in its essence, is good — but in the right doses.
Cortisol, often misunderstood, actually plays several key roles in maintaining our health and well-being. Here's a glimpse at its multifaceted functions:
- Energy regulation: It boosts glucose levels, providing us the energy to respond to stress. However, balance is crucial, as prolonged high levels can lead to diabetes and insulin resistance.
- Anti-inflammatory agent: In times of injury, cortisol acts to reduce inflammation, aiding in healing.
- Maintaining fluid balance: It plays a role in regulating our body's salt and water balance.
- Boosting alertness and energy: Cortisol is vital in enhancing our alertness and energy levels, keeping us focused and ready to tackle challenges.
- Immune system modulation: By influencing our immune responses, cortisol helps reduce the risk of autoimmune diseases.
- Memory functions: It also has a significant role in certain aspects of memory formation and recall.
However, the story of cortisol isn't all sunshine. Constantly high levels of this hormone can lead to a range of symptoms, indicating an imbalance in your body's stress response. These symptoms include:
- Swelling and puffiness
- Jittery or on-edge feelings
- Insomnia or disrupted sleep patterns
- Hair loss
- Thinning skin
- Weight gain
- High blood pressure
Understanding these roles and symptoms is key to recognizing when cortisol might be out of balance in your body, allowing for proactive steps toward restoring harmony and health.
What Happens When You Are Constantly Stressed?
Struggling to leave the comfort of your bed each morning? Relying on coffee to shake off that persistent morning fog? Well, then you could have adrenal fatigue (a.k.a. low cortisol). Yes, cortisol levels can dip too low. We need cortisol in the mornings to get us up and moving, but when our adrenal glands are overwhelmed and exhausted, they are too tired to continue working efficiently. This often stems from a cycle of negative thinking, impacting the brain's hypothalamus and pituitary glands, and ultimately leading to cellular dysfunction. According to the National Science Foundation, 80 percent of our thoughts are negative, and 95 percent are repetitive. How do we combat this? The key lies in shifting our mindset through affirmations and daily gratitude. We’ll get into how to do this further down.
Recognizing the symptoms of low cortisol or adrenal fatigue is crucial for taking steps toward better health. These symptoms often manifest as:
- Fatigue: A persistent sense of tiredness that isn't relieved by rest.
- Inflammation: Unexplained and frequent inflammatory responses in the body.
- Blood sugar imbalance: This can manifest as cravings, particularly for sweets, and may contribute to weight gain.
- Dizziness: Experiencing lightheadedness or a sense of being unsteady, particularly when standing up.
- Pain: Chronic, unexplained aches and pains in various parts of the body.
Now that you're armed with the essentials about cortisol and its impact, let's explore my personal go-to hacks that helped me reduce my stress and inflammation.
Our bodies don't differentiate between real and perceived threats; the reaction is the same.
Eat the Rainbow
Focus on whole, nutrient-rich foods, particularly those high in magnesium, vitamins B6, C, D, and zinc. Remember, preservatives and additives can disrupt your hormonal balance, including cortisol production, which is why nutrient-dense foods are key. Magnesium, for example, is known for its ability to support the nervous system and reduce stress. It's found in leafy greens, nuts, and seeds. Vitamin B6, crucial for mood regulation and brain health, is abundant in bananas, avocados, and poultry. Vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant found in citrus fruits and berries, helps combat stress-related cellular damage. Vitamin D, obtained from sun exposure and foods like fatty fish and fortified products, is essential for immune function and mood regulation. Zinc, found in legumes, nuts, and whole grains, plays a significant role in hormonal balance and immune response. By focusing on these nutrient-dense foods, not only do you nourish your body with essential vitamins and minerals, but you also avoid preservatives and additives found in processed foods.
Align with Your Body's Cycles
All living things operate in cycles. Eating, sleeping, light exposure, and exercise affect your brain's clock genes, which dictate your circadian rhythm (sleep cycle). Align your eating schedule with your body's natural cycles. This synchronization supports your circadian rhythm, enhancing sleep quality and overall well-being.
Minimize Refined Carbs and Processed Foods
Refined carbs and processed foods are often high in sugar and low in essential nutrients. When consumed, they can cause a rapid spike in blood sugar levels followed by a swift drop, leading to energy crashes and increased stress on the body. This rollercoaster of blood sugar levels puts extra pressure on the adrenals, the glands responsible for stress hormone production, including cortisol. Over time, this continuous stress on the adrenal glands can contribute to a state of chronic stress and inflammation in the body.
Moderate Caffeine Intake
Consider reducing your caffeine consumption and never drink coffee on an empty stomach. Caffeine can amplify cortisol production, which is especially problematic in the morning when your body's cortisol levels are naturally higher. I used to always drink coffee on an empty stomach because it was encouraged on intermittent fasting blogs. (Yes, we've all tried intermittent fasting.) But what these sites don't tell you is that most of their studies are done on men, and the results are not as applicable to women.
Adjust Your Mindset
You know when your friend hasn't responded to your message and you feel like they're angry at you and never want to speak to you again? That's an assumption your brain has made. When you make assumptions, your mind starts to create stressful scenarios that haven't even happened yet. Whether real or imagined, both types of stress have the same response in your body. Your friend is just busy.
Our minds work on repetitive cycles. If we are constantly on a negative loop, negative thoughts will continue to occur. Work on shifting from a negative to a positive narrative. Affirmations are my favorite healing tool to rewire my thought patterns, fostering a more positive and stress-free mindset. That’s why each of my eyeam products is tailored with an affirmation to make healing easy, accessible, and time efficient.
Get Adequate Sleep
Aiming for 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night is essential because sleep deprivation can significantly increase cortisol levels in the body. And then, elevated cortisol, especially at night, can create a cycle of disrupted sleep, leading to further sleeplessness and increased stress — it's a classic lose-lose scenario. To break this cycle, establishing a consistent wind-down routine can be incredibly beneficial. Try to incorporate activities that signal to your body that it's time to rest, such as reading, meditating, or taking a warm bath. It's also important to reduce exposure to blue light from screens in the evening, as this type of light can interfere with the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles.
Adaptogens are natural herbs that help the body resist stressors of all kinds, whether physical, chemical, or biological. They work by targeting the adrenal system, which manages your body's hormonal response to stress. By modulating stress hormones, adaptogens can help stabilize your body's processes, reducing the impact of stress on the body. This includes regulating cortisol levels, making them especially useful for managing stress and inflammation. Adaptogens like ashwagandha, rhodiola, and timut pepper offer varied benefits, from improving sleep and mental clarity to enhancing overall well-being. eyeam’s trusty Hormone Check Supplement is packed with potent adaptogens to help reduce cortisol.
Don’t Forget to Breathe
Breathing, especially deep and mindful breathing, is a powerful tool for stress relief. It signals the body to relax and calm down, activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for bringing us into the 'rest and digest' state. This kind of breathing not only reduces the heart rate and blood pressure but also helps to decrease cortisol levels, promoting a sense of peace and relaxation throughout the body.
Embrace Mindfulness Practices
Incorporating mindfulness practices such as yoga, meditation, and spending time in nature into your routine can significantly reduce stress. These practices help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, leading to reduced cortisol levels and a heightened sense of peace.
Humming, singing, and chanting have therapeutic benefits and lower your stress response. This is because they can stimulate the vagus nerve, a key part of our nervous system that connects our brain, gut, and vocal cords and influences our relaxation response. The vibrations created during vocal activities help increase vagal tone, improving our ability to relax and manage stress.
Cold Exposure Therapy
When you immerse yourself in cold water, like in an ice bath or even take a cold shower, it initially triggers the body's 'fight or flight' response, causing an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. (Bear with me.) But after a short period, the body adapts to the cold, and this adaptation activates the parasympathetic nervous system, leading to a decrease in heart rate and blood pressure and promoting a sense of calm and relaxation. Regularly practicing cold exposure can improve your body's ability to manage stress and recover from it more efficiently. It also has other potential benefits, including reducing inflammation, enhancing circulation, boosting energy levels, and potentially improving mental clarity and focus.
Connect with Joy, Purpose, and Community
Find activities that fill you with joy. When we feel joy, our happy hormones, endorphins and dopamine, are released. Prolonged social isolation and loneliness are actually linked to higher levels of norepinephrine (the fight or flight hormone). It's hard to be in fight or flight if you are laughing, have a purpose to wake up to, and have a community to turn to when you're in need.
Reduce Exposure to Endocrine Disruptors
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can interfere with the endocrine (hormone) system in the body. These disruptors are found in a wide range of products, including plastics, cosmetics, personal care products, and even in some food items. For instance, certain plastic containers can release chemicals like BPA into food and drinks. Skincare and beauty products often contain parabens and phthalates, known for their hormone-disrupting effects. Even household cleaning products can be a source of such chemicals. This is why being mindful of the ingredients in your food, skincare, and household products is crucial. The best way to reduce your exposure and maintain a healthier hormonal equilibrium is to opt for natural and organic products whenever possible.